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China under |the hammer

Mar 11. 2015
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Dealers converge on New York for Asia Week

THE SEVENTH ANNUAL Asia Week gets underway tomorrow in New York and participants agree that this year’s auction and sales event will be the biggest ever, with most of the items Chinese.

The nine-day event will feature exhibitions from 42 leading international Asian art dealers, five major auction houses and 22 museums and cultural institutions from throughout the US.

“If you are an Asian arts admirer and collector and operate in this field, this has become something that’s in your diary every year,” says Henry Howard-Sneyd, vice-chairman of Sotheby’s Asian art in the Americas.

“You know that you need to be in New York in March for Asia Week. New York has become the focal point of Asian art in March.”

Sotheby’s will be offering 11 catalogues of works to be auctioned, six of them Chinese art, the auction house’s biggest offering for Asia Week since it began participating.

“It’s very unusual for one of our departments to have five catalogues. That’s a really significant. We have three formal departments and we also do a private selling as well, and we would normally expect five or six catalogues for the entire series, and this time we have 11,” Howard-Sneyd adds.

The auction house will auction two rare pieces of early Ming dynasty blue and white imperial porcelains, in addition to fine Chinese paintings.

Dealer Eric Zetterquist, owner of Zetterquist Galleries, says that “very splashy collections” of art being offered at auction are drumming up anticipation for this year’s event.

“There's a lot of interest both domestic and overseas in those auctions. But also, the galleries are putting their best foot forward, and exhibiting good quality things with a sound thesis.”.

Bonhams, the British auction house, will auction close to 300 pieces divided into three collections. One will feature 100 Chinese snuff bottles from a single owner, another is an assortment of eight pieces from a different collector, and the third contains 165 pieces from various owners.

The 165-piece sale focuses on the theme of art from Chinese scholar studios, which will include jade carvings, traditional Chinese furniture called huanghuali furniture, and paintings, which Bruce MacLaren, Chinese art specialist with Bonhams, says are doing very well in the market today.

“Traditional paintings are doing really well right now, as well as classical painting, calligraphy does very well in today’s market. These are areas that have historically been collected, but now they're coming back and they're selling very strongly,” he said. “Calligraphy has always been considered the highest art form in China.”

Art experts also said that they anticipate Christie’s auction of items from the Robert Ellsworth collection, one of the most prominent Asian art collections by an American.

“This Asian Week is going to set a number of records, principally because one of the largest collections of Chinese art to hit the marketplace is coming to auction, that of Robert Ellsworth,” says Lark Mason, founder of iGavel Auctions and Lark Mason Associates, both of which will be selling pieces during Asia Week.

“I think there has been a subtle shift in demand for Chinese art, and I think that subtle shift is reflective of the desire for items with a strong provenance, which is a documented history of ownership,” he adds.

“That’s one of the reasons why I think this series of sales is going to be so strong, because whether I’m speaking about the Ellsworth sale at Christie’s or sales of other houses, we all have objects that come from long-standing American collections.”

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